Michael Jackson’s posthumous life is going very well.
Stars – including Ne-Yo, Cee Lo Green and Beyoncé, appearing via video – are gathering in Cardiff, Wales, to pay tribute to him at the Michael Forever show on Saturday; and Cirque du Soleil just kicked off Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour: a collaboration that involves “a riveting fusion of visuals, dance, music and fantasy that immerses audiences in Michael’s creative world and literally turns his signature moves upside down.”
Several members of the circus, including writer-director Jamie King, worked with Jackson’s estate on the inception of the project, which his mother and children saw in Montreal on the weekend.
And Fox Television Stations’ Michael Jackson Doctor Trial app for the Android and Apple platforms went to No. 1 among for-pay new apps this week. Those of us unable to watch the trial of Jackson’s personal physician, Conrad Murray, all day long, every day, may refer to the app for live video of the proceedings, documents introduced into evidence, news clips and photo galleries.
The app also provides expert testimony and the Jackson family’s reactions, largely limited so far to La Toya Jackson’s expansion of her murder/conspiracy theory and a video of Michael’s father Joe leaving court early on the second day while giving wan little thumbs-up signals to the crowd of Jackson supporters holding “Justice for Michael” signs.
The trial itself is not exactly is not exactly Beyoncé and the airborne clowns, but it is absorbing in its quiet, procedural way and occasionally devastating.
This crowd is outside every day, occasionally shouting that Murray, charged with involuntary manslaughter in Jackson’s death, is a “murderer” and an “animal.” They, like many of Jackson’s hard-core fans, are not seeking justice so much as vengeance, and will, no matter what the verdict is, be disappointed.
“This is a very American trial,” observes the U.S. lawyer and TV writer David Feige. “It’s not really about drugs or manslaughter, but the power of the culture of celebrity in this country. And how even medicine becomes warped in the vortex of American celebrity.”
Feige is right about the culture of celebrity. We have ensured that Murray is famous in his own right, like a slick, latter-day George (Dr. Nick) Nichopoulos, who was indicted in 1980 on 14 counts of over-prescribing drugs to Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. Nichopoulos was acquitted, but his licence was finally revoked in 1995 amid revelations that he had been over-prescribing to numerous patients for years. “I cared too much,” Nichopoulos argued.
Michael Jackson killed himself, is Murray’s less eloquent claim. Desperate to sleep – and morbid insomnia was Presley’s plague as well –Jackson snagged and swallowed a handful of sedatives and a bottle of Propofol while Murray wasn’t looking, creating a toxic “perfect storm” that killed him so quickly “he didn’t even have time to close his eyes,” Murray’s defence lawyer Ed Chernoff told the court in his opening statement last week.
His eyes were open? Is this why Murray appears to have let the star’s life bleed away while calling everyone but 911?
In a grotesque photograph deployed by Los Angeles District Attorney David Walgren during his opening statement, Jackson lies, in a green haze, on a hospital gurney, the label HOMICIDE stamped above him like a brand.
His eyes are closed. He looks small, and fragile. His hair and makeup are striking.
And this is how he remains in one’s consciousness, seemingly in the mysterious, transformative state between life and death, a deep trope in his art. Consider the multiple transformations in his videos: into a black panther; a werewolf; a demon; a glittering handful of dust. In his life: a shy, childish man; a sexual force in gold leather; a cool, smiling superstar.
Who is he, or who was he, really?
When Jackson died two years ago, the filmmaker Spike Lee, who knew him, went out and had iPods filled with his music. He and his friends played them all day and night, rejoicing in the sound.
The tribute show, and better, Cirque du Soleil’s reconstruction of Jackson’s living art, are good signs of us letting go and moving the music and performances forward.
Meanwhile, each day at the trial, we must return to the bedside of one of the most famous and powerful men in the world. To the terrible sight of someone who had everything and nothing; who could not pay someone enough, it would appear, to ensure he was still breathing.